§ LORD DAVIES had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in a position to make any statement regarding the results of the recent Bermuda Conference; what steps are now proposed to deal with the refugee problem; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not think I need apologize for having put down this Motion with regard to refugees and the 837 provision of facilities for their escape from the Nazi terror. Since last we discussed the subject in your Lordships' House several things have happened. There was the Bermuda Conference, where the Allies discussed the possibilities of securing a larger measure of relief for refugees and the expediting of their arrival in countries where they would no longer be persecuted. At the opening of that Conference Mr. Richard Law, on behalf of the Government, made a most admirable speech, but after the opening proceedings the rest of the Conference was shrouded in mystery, and we have not been told what actually happened and was actually done. Therefore a certain amount of doubt and anxiety has crept into the minds of certain people because we realize that, owing to the preoccupations and exigencies of the war, it is possible that this very important subject may have been overlooked and that insufficient attention may have been given to it.
§ As the House is shortly going into Recess, it seemed to some of us that this subject should be discussed, because we believe the public interest has been aroused and should not be allowed to flag. I only wish someone more competent than myself could have put this Motion on the Paper. It will be within the recollection of the House that last December the Foreign Secretary made a number of disclosures with regard to the persecution and the policy of extermination going on in enemy-occupied countries. As a result it is true to say that a wave of indignation swept over the country, and there was also a most remarkable demonstration of sympathy in another place. I cannot help feeling that your Lordships will share the sentiments expressed on that occasion in the House of Commons. We shall also agree that after four years of war there is a danger that we may become somewhat hardened and callous towards all the misery and suffering which is being inflicted in different parts of the world. Then there is this added horror—the torture and death inflicted on hundreds of thousands of helpless civilians. That is a horrible feature of this war which distinguishes it from other struggles in the past. We have read accounts—I do not propose to cite them to-day—of the cold-blooded extermination of Poles and Jews, mass murders on an enormous scale, and even 838 during the last few days your Lordships will have read in the newspapers of the new executions en masse which have taken place in Poland and also in Czechoslovakia.
§ The problem therefore is still a very urgent one. As I have said, the public conscience was awakened a few months ago, and we are entitled to ask for assurances that the Government are doing their level best and that every avenue is being explored in order to rescue as many of these unfortunate people as are able, by one means or another, to escape from enemy-occupied countries. May I assure my noble friend the Leader of the House that in raising this matter we have no intention of trying to embarrass the Government—on the contrary—nor do we seek for any information which may prejudice their efforts on behalf of the refugees? We are grateful to the Government for any information they may be able to give us which will not prejudice their efforts in this direction, and we realize that there are many things that cannot be said. We also agree that the final solution of this problem is to win the war, and win it speedily. We are also all agreed that, whatever actions are taken by the Government, they must not impede in any way our war effort.
§ Within the limits that remain—perhaps very narrow limits—we feel that something more might be done. In some quarters, at any rate, there is an uncomfortable feeling that the attitude of some Government Departments is not all that it might be, especially the Home Office. There does not seem to be that enthusiasm, that eagerness, to tackle the problem which we should naturally expect under present conditions. After reading the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs in the recent debate in another place one cannot help feeling that everything possible has not been done to settle this problem. May I quote one example by way of illustration of the attitude which Government Departments appear to take towards some of our refugees and evacuees? I refer especially to the evacuees sent over to this country by the Government some time ago from Gibraltar. They were placed under the supervision, I understand, of the Ministry of Health, and your Lordships may have noticed that two articles were published in The Times this week from which it 839 appears that these people have not been treated as they should have been treated. If the facts disclosed in these articles are really true—I cannot say whether they are true or not, but The Times is still regarded as a responsible newspaper—then they call for some kind of inquiry on behalf of the Government into the treatment meted out to these unfortunate evacuees from Gibraltar. They, of course, are not in the same category as refugees, and I only mention them as an example to show the kind of treatment which is sometimes experienced in official quarters.
In the last debate on this subject in March my noble friend (Viscount Cran-borne) produced what I thought at the time was an extraordinary argument. He said that if we removed the restrictions on refugees coming into this country it might have a very prejudicial effect upon our food supplies; it might create a food stringency. That, I understand, was one of the reasons advanced for refusing admission to a number of refugees. I think the fallacy of this argument was exposed shortly afterwards in a letter written to The Times by Professor Hill, a member of another place. This is what he said:
The greatest number we could hope to rescue now and bring to Britain might be 10,000, for whom we should each have to give up 2 oz. of food a year. At present we spend much more energy than is contained in two ounces of food talking and writing about the problem; so there might even be a saving.
And he goes on to say:
The refugees admitted since 1939, and still being admitted at the rate of about 800 a month, have been mainly of Allied nationality, almost entirely non-Jewish. The whole lot of Jews allowed to enter and remain since 1933 may now be depriving each of us of 12 oz. to 14 oz. of food per annum. There are not many of us in Britain, if only we could do arithmetic, who would sell our birth-Tight of hospitality to persecuted people for so small an extra ration for ourselves.
I cannot help feeling that this argument about food must have been manufactured in the recesses of some Government Department, and it really is not a cogent reason for refusing to throw the doors open to these unfortunate refugees.
§ The other point which causes us a certain amount of misgiving is the reception and consideration given to proposals emanating from the National Committee for Rescue from Nazi Terror. This Com- 840 mittee has given very serious consideration to the whole problem. Its Chairman is my noble friend Lord Crewe, who, unfortunately, owing to another engagement, is not able to be here to speak on this Motion to-day. The twelve points enumerated in a leaflet have been elaborated in a pamphlet produced by Miss Rathbone, M.P., which I would commend, if I may, to noble Lords because it does give a very clear and a very striking account of the difficulties which have arisen in connexion with refugee problems. If I may be allowed to say so I think we are greatly indebted to Miss Rathbone for her single-mindedness in this matter and for all the trouble she has taken to bring the refugee problems to the notice of our fellow countrymen.
§ This twelve-point programme which I should like to allude to for a few moments includes, first of all, a proposal in regard to visas. It suggests that there should be a revision of the regulations regarding United Kingdom visas, including a supply of blocks of unnamed visas to British Consuls in neutral European countries, especially in Spain and Portugal; also the removal of the conditions for a visa that the refugee must already have left enemy-controlled territory. One still hopes that some action may be taken by the Foreign Office in order to carry out this suggestion, because in the first place it will encourage the neutrals to assist refugees across the frontier; secondly, I understand that there is no lack of offers of hospitality for these people when they arrive in this country; and thirdly, in suspicious cases there is ample accommodation in the detention camps in the Isle of Man where they can be sent and properly "vetted" before they are allowed to come into the country. For these reasons I venture to suggest that this question of visas might be looked into again.
§ Another suggestion is that financial aid should be given to the neutral States who will take the responsibility of receiving the refugees in the first instance, like Switzerland, Sweden and so on. I think something was done or promised to reassure these States that they would be assisted by the United Nations if they gave hospitality and befriended the refugees who came into their countries. Then there is the question of shipping, of whether some arrangements might not be made to ensure that any accommodation 841 available in ships returning from ports overseas might be given to the refugees. Next there is a proposal that pressure should be exerted on the satellite countries in order to make them clearly understand that they will be eventually held responsible by the United Nations when the war is over for failing to deal with the refugees and for handing them over to the tender mercies of the Nazis. In that connexion your Lordships are probably aware that there are in France a number of concentration camps. They were under the control of Vichy, but I suppose Vichy no longer operates. In these camps hundreds of people are starving and dying of disease. Those in the camps include a certain number of the International Brigadiers, the men who fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish War, and who were the first voluntarily to take up arms against the Fascist Powers. It is suggested that possibly the protecting Power, which I understand is Switzerland, might be able to intervene on behalf of these men and try to secure their escape from the horrible conditions under which they now live.
§ Another proposal is that there should be some separate department, or sub-department, charged separately with investigating and carrying out some plan to expedite the escape of refugees and deal with the refugee problem generally. This should be a department with someone in authority at its head who would give his undivided attention to this very difficult question. A further suggestion is that perhaps the United Nations should appoint a High Commissioner to visit the neutral countries and to discuss these problems on the spot with the Governments of those countries. Possibly very useful results might follow from such a visit. These are all suggestions emanating from this Committee and I cannot help feeling that at least they deserve some consideration on the part of the Government, especially on the part of the Home Office.
§ Now I come to my last point and that is in connexion with refugees in Palestine. It only relates, of course, to Jewish refugees, but I do not think that anyone can say that our record in the past has been a particularly bright one when we remember what happened to the schooner with 750 refugees on board, all of whom were refused admission into Palestine. I 842 cannot help feeling that that is one of the black pages in our administration during the last five years. Therefore I would appeal to the Government to remove entirely the restrictions upon refugees entering into Palestine. I know I shall be told that the stumbling block is the White Paper. I wonder if this White Paper is to last for ever. After all, it was with some trepidation, at any rate, that Parliament endorsed the provisions of the White Paper. Your Lordships will remember that in 1939 Jews and Arabs were invited to meet in London at a Round-Table Conference, but the Arabs refused to meet the Jews to discuss their problems round the table. Subsequently the White Paper was issued, and I think it was only approved by what was then a relatively small majority of 89 votes in another place.
On that occasion the Prime Minister made a very cogent speech, as he always does. He said:
As one intimately and responsibly concerned in the earlier stages of our Palestine policy, I could not stand by and see solemn engagements into which Britain has entered before the world set aside for reasons of economic convenience or—and it will be a vain hope—for the sake of a quiet life. I should feel personally embarrassed in the most acute manner if I lent myself to what I must regard as an act of repudiation.
That debate and that Division took place in 1939. It was the culminating point in the process, which had been going on for some time, of whittling down the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. I cannot bring myself to believe that this policy really represented the considered views of the country. It was engineered, I think, by a relatively small body of persons, and it was a case of the dog being wagged by the tail.
§ Surely, if the policy of the Balfour Declaration was sound and righteous twenty-five years ago, it is far more so after we have witnessed all the horrible happenings and the terrible slaughter and persecution of the Jews during the last four years. If that policy, providing a city of refuge for these unfortunates, was sound twenty-five years ago, it is a far sounder and more righteous policy to-day. After all, what was the White Paper? It was one of the last instalments of appeasement, and one cannot help feeling, having regard to all that has happened since that time, that the restrictions imposed by this White Paper 843 should be finally done away with. Palestine is a mandated territory and it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that the White Paper was never endorsed by the Mandates Commission at Geneva. Therefore the point arises: Is it valid? Has it the sanction of International Law? I do not profess to be an international lawyer and therefore I cannot say, but it appears to me to be extremely doubtful whether the White Paper is in fact a valid and legal document.
§ In any case, I think your Lordships will agree that no treaty and no document can be valid for ever, and there are certain reasons for which this White Paper can now be revised. One reason, as I have said, is to be found in the events since 1939. Those surely are new factors, and if to-day the White Paper was brought before Parliament it would not have the ghost of a chance of being approved. Then there is the fact that if we refuse to do anything about it we arouse the suspicion that we are not really sincere in our protestations and in our intentions as regards Jewish refugees. I believe that several newspapers in neutral countries have commented upon the wonderful demonstration that took place in the House of Commons and upon the fact that nothing has been done to revise the White Paper.
§ Then there comes the consideration of the strategy of the war. Undoubtedly there were risks, during the first three years, that Palestine might be invaded, and therefore it might be said that we could not do anything about it; but I put it to my noble friend that that risk is now a very slight one, and that we should be justified now in taking risks even if it involved probably annoying certain interests which are inimical to any modification of the White Paper. Lastly, I would remind your Lordships that the Jews have done everything they could to assist us in every possible way in the war. Therefore they are deserving of proper treatment. If the British Government had the right to impose the restrictions of the White Paper they equally have the right to abrogate them, and the responsibility for seeing that that is done rests with Parliament. I have not time to discuss what the final solution of this difficult problem may be, but I do venture to appeal to the Government to remove the 844 embargo on Jewish refugees who are trying to escape to Palestine. We cannot forget that the other provisions of the White Paper on Jewish immigration cease in March, 1944, that is in March next year. Surely the Government can give some assurance that this White Paper is not the law of the Medes and Persians and is not going to last for ever, and that something will be done to mitigate the unfortunate results which have accrued from it.
In conclusion, may I remind your Lordships that the traditional policy of this country in the past has been that this country should be regarded as an asylum for political refugees? I sometimes ask myself whether in the past few years we have really lived up to this honourable tradition. Political persecution has increased enormously; have we done our best to ensure that the victims shall find sanctuary in this country? We are told that, in some quarters, Anti-Semitism, race hatred and intolerance are being advocated. There have been agitations, and literature—pamphlets and so on—has been issued. One cannot help thinking that if that sort of thing is allowed to go on it is the beginning of the downward path, and not only in this country but also in another great democracy. I have read Mr. Wendell Willkie's book which has just been published, and I find that he is perturbed concerning this matter. This is what he writes:
All this would appear ridiculous in our modern age were it not for the examples of bigotry and persecution we see in countries once presumed to be enlightened, and, even more seriously, were it not for the fact that we are already witnessing a crawling, insidious Anti-Semitism in our own country. It will be well to bear in mind continuously that we are fighting to-day against intolerance and oppression, and that we shall get them in abundance if we lose. If we allow them to develop at home while we are engaging the enemy abroad we shall have immeasurably weakened our fighting arm.
Now that is a very dreadful prospect. The poison which Hitler and his henchmen impregnated into the German people is gradually spreading, and I cannot help feeling that it is up to the Government to denounce, not only by their words but by their deeds, any tendency of this kind which may appear in any part of our country, and indeed in any other country. If not, we may destroy Hitler and his Nazis and the system he has built up, but his spirit will go on living in the world.
The other day I came across one of the speeches delivered by Lord Macaulay when the question of Jewish disabilities was being discussed in another place. His remarks on that occasion, I think, could be applied to the existing conditions in the world to-day. If I may be allowed, I will quote just one short passage. He said towards the end of the debate:
Sir, in supporting the Motion of my honourable friend, I am, I believe, supporting the honour and the interests of the Christian religion. I should think that I insulted that religion if I said that it cannot stand unaided by intolerant laws. Without such laws it was established, and without such laws it may be maintained. It triumphed over the super-stitions of the most refined and of the most savage nations, over the graceful mythology of Greece and the bloody idolatry of the northern forests.
That is what we have to guard against. There can be no compromise, no neutrality, with this "bloody idolatry of the northern forests." Therefore, I once more appeal to the Government, in their dealings with the refugees, to make it quite clear that everything possible is being done for Jewish refugees and all others who seek our protection in these difficult and terrible days. I beg to move.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I did not know that my noble friend Lord Davies would refer to the Gibraltarian refugees, but as I have some special knowledge of them perhaps the House will forgive me if I tell your Lordships something about them and make a practical suggestion to the Leader of the House which he may consider favourably. It so happens that a building which is, in some sense, under my control houses the largest number of these Gibraltarian refugees. I have visited many of them on a number of occasions and when I went round I asked if they had any complaints. More or less, they said that they had none. But when this agitation appeared in The Times newspaper, I asked a man who was a competent business-like man and who had something to do with caring for the refugees, to make Inquiries. He did so, and, if I may, I will send to the Leader of the House a copy of what he writes and the practical suggestion which he makes. This suggestion, I respectfully suggest, the Leader of the House should, if he thinks it worth while, adopt. The gentleman to whom I 846 refer states that it is true that in most cases there is a good deal of discontent and he gives as the reason—at the same time explaining why he gives this reason —the rather pathetic circumstance of which we have heard so often before. He says that all the Government Departments concerned really wish well to the Gibraltarian refugees, but there are so many of those Departments that they all get in each others way, and the refugees do not get the benefit of the kindly sentiments which imbue every one of those Departments.
And may I tell the noble Leader that the number of important Government Departments looking after this small number of refugees is no fewer than six, and none of them can act without the others? Well, of course, in such circumstances, absurd things happen. A regulation is issued that the refugees most eat a particular kind of food which no Gibraltarian can eat. Naturally, there has been a great deal of trouble about it. My informant points out that if there had been just one man responsible such a situation could never have arisen. He declares that if one man of consequence were put in charge of the problem of the Gibraltarian refugees he is quite certain that within a week all the difficulties would vanish, as they have, in fact, vanished in the case of the largest number who are housed in the building which, as I say, is, in some sense, under my control. I think that there is very likely good reason in what he says. I say no more now except that I believe that a solution may well be found on the lines which I have ventured to bring to the notice of the House.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, I appreciate the spirit in which Lord Davies has opened this debate, and I agree with him that it is the urgency of the matter that is the main problem, not the character of the ultimate solution. I will confine myself to the subject matter of the Bermuda Conference and the problem of the temporary asylum of refugees. I should like to acknowledge with gratitude the liberality of His Majesty's Government to the refugees from Germany and Austria who were received before the war and to those—some 50,000 —Jews who remain here now. It is because I realize this that I plead with the Government not to fall short of that generous and active spirit in dealing 847 especially with the racial victims of the Nazis in these four years of war.
That in the matter of the systematic mass murder of the Jews in the Nazi-occupied territories of Europe, which was the reason why the Bermuda Conference was called, there has been a deterioration in the determination to grapple with the problem will be seen, I think, by a reference to the succession of official statements made on the subject. On December 17, 1942, the declaration of the United Nations expressly referred to persons of the Jewish race and to them alone, and the Allied Governments condemned in the strongest possible terms "this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination." The Foreign Secretary gave at the time the assurance that we should do all we could to alleviate these horrors. On January 19, 1943, Mr. Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced that His Majesty's Government's intention in associating themselves with the Allied Governments' declaration on the German policy of exterminating the Jews in Europe, was to help in arresting this policy.
On January 20 the British Ambassador in Washington, Lord Halifax, in a note to the United States Government, called attention to "what may be unlimited demands for accommodation on the part of refugees threatened by Germany's extermination policy," and added that in the event of the suggestion of international co-operation proving acceptable, the British Government and the Colonies would be glad to examine the situation with a view to finding out whether there was still a possibility, despite all other demands, for transporting food in ships or taking even further refugees into British territories. On February 25, the United States Government in their reply said:The refugee problem should not be considered as being confined to persons of any particular race or faith. Inter-Governmental collaboration for the temporary asylum of refugees as near as possible to the areas in which these people find themselves at present is strongly supported.There was a shifting of emphasis there to "temporary asylum." On March 23 the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, made particular reference to "persecuted peoples in Eastern Europe," for a number of whom, he said, refuge in Palestine had already been offered.
848 On April 19 to 29 the Bermuda Conference took place. It began in a spirit of pessimism. Its official pronouncement at the end said that the delegates "had examined the refugee problem in all its aspects." The Jews were not mentioned. Agreed confidential recommendations were made which were designed to lead to the relief of a substantial number of refugees of all races and nationalities. Not a word was said about "temporary asylum." Tests of relationship of particular recommendation to the war effort were made and these, it must be acknowledged, were fair in themselves. All that came out of the statement was a promise of recommendations —undisclosed—and of the setting up of an Inter-Governmental organization to handle the problem in the future.
On May 19 the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department made a broad survey of the refugee problem, starting in India, with 400,000 refugees, and mentioning that 300,000 Jews had been sent to Palestine since 1919, which really has nothing, or extremely little, to do with the case. He painted a picture of Europe as having 120,000,000 refugees. One might be pardoned for inferring from this that the systematic mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, with something like 6,000,000 persons affected—affected, not murdered—was entirely forgotten. I am wholly in favour of the relief of men of other races and nationalities—Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Yugoslavs, Czechs and all the other victims. Victory is certain to help and to liberate them, but no one will ever imagine that 120,000,000 people wanted to escape from Europe to the British Empire or to the United States or to neutral countries. None of these people have been singled out by the Nazis for mass murder because of their race, as the Jews have been.
When the Under-Secretary, remembering, no doubt, that of the 67,000 refugees of all nationalities who came to this country from 1940 to May, 1943, there is only a minute proportion of Jews, said that it could not be wrong to give priority in the work of rescue to those who are contributing to the war effort, we might also remember the Prime Minister's words in his message to, I think, the World Jewish Congress on July 21, 1942, when he said:You will recall that on October 25 last both President Roosevelt and I expressed the 849 horror felt by all civilized peoples at Nazi barbarism and terrorism, and our resolve to place retribution for these crimes among the major purposes of this war. The Jews were Hitler's first victims, and ever since they have been in the forefront of resistance to Nazi aggression.Bearing these facts in mind, am I wrong in commenting on a deterioration in determination? It was the highest spokesman of the Government—not any free-lance or sentimentalist—who encouraged us in these hopes, and there is some reason for our disappointment.
The results of the Bermuda Conference, as disclosed in another place, promised an extension of visas, which is very welcome, and the setting up of permanent machinery, which is also very welcome. No one can over-estimate the value of the work done by Sir Herbert Emerson, Dr. Kullmann and their staff. One cannot help remembering, however, the sequel of the Evian Conference of 1938, and Sir John Hope Simpson's remarks at the end of his comprehensive study of the refugee problem, when he said:The machinery for Government action was created at Evian in July, 1938. The need is no longer for machinery but for action.I therefore put this question to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. Assuming that the Inter-Governmental Committee is being reorganized, what extension of mandate will it have? Will the Jewish community in some way be associated with it? What will be its financial resources? It will, we hope, have a wide function and be able to take advantage of the more favourable war conditions from time to time. It will also have a very important contribution to make to the solution of post-war problems.
But again we have to stress the issue of immediate action. It is wise to distinguish between those who cannot escape from Nazi-occupied territory and those who can. As to the former, Allied Governments have rejected negotiations with the German Government for reasons which are not wholly convincing. As to the latter, I believe that there is much more that could still be done. First, I think it will very much precipitate things if more and more care is taken to bring home the awful guilt of the enemy country by the greatest possible publicity in the German tongue, and by emphasizing the ghastly stain on the German character, for I am sure that ordinary Germans 850 do not know the scale of these horrible events.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, has already spoken of the satellite countries. With regard to the neutrals, I believe we could do still more by appealing to neutral Governments to take over from Germany refugees escaping from the country under conditions assuring financial responsibility where desired and repatriation or resettlement after the war. So far as we ourselves are concerned, Lord Halifax in his statement of January 20 did speak of further refugees being admitted into British territory. Many offers have been received by private organizations of houses and hospitality on a fairly large scale. Lord Davies has spoken of Palestine. There are also the Colonies. There are also the self-governing Dominions, whose policy is of course their own affair. But it might be well to recollect that quite recently the Primate of the Church of England in Australia, with the Presbyterian and Methodist leaders, has made an appeal to the Commonwealth Government to set aside a portion of what is called the Kimberleys in North-Western Australia for the receiving of Jewish refugees. The Government of Western Australia is believed to be favourable to the idea, and many leading people in Australian life are sympathetic.
Then, so far as the Allies themselves as a body are concerned, shipping is surely much less difficult to secure than it was. It is impossible to believe that out of 20,000,000 tons of Allied shipping, four or five small steamers of 20,000 tons could not be got to transport refugees to Palestine. There is the whole question of camps, which have been suggested over and over again. They are far more possible now than they were at first, since the Tunisian victory has opened the entire coast-line of North Africa. Then there is the question of temporary asylum, and many temporary asylums are both an enormous shelter in themselves and a safety valve. I end by repeating the note of urgency. The crime is the crime of the Nazis. The British Government have done much before. It is in face of this systematic mass murder, especially in the last twelve months, that I and so many others plead, with the Government to act in a new way. With the appeal of the stricken people ringing in our ears we should be false to our tradition if we failed to do everything we can.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Davies and the right reverend Prelate have performed a real service in raising this matter of the refugees before the Recess. It would be very unfortunate if there were to be an interval during which it was felt by the refugees and the potential refugees that they were being neglected—as I am sure they are not—by the Government. I desire in my capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees to detain the House for a moment or two. Let me first of all join with my noble friend Lord Davies in the tribute he paid to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees, Miss Rathbone, who has done such magnificent work in keeping to the forefront the problem we are discussing. And let me say that that Committee and the refugees have suffered two grievous losses in the last few weeks. The other Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees was Colonel Cazalet, a member of another place who had been a really wonderful and most sympathetic worker on behalf of the refugees. The other great loss is our colleague who would certainly have spoken from this Front Bench on this subject, Lord Wedgwood, to whom the tributes paid yesterday were I think so fully justified. These losses those of us who are left can only try to make up by renewed efforts to aid the refugees.
I want to bring up only two or three brief points. In the first place, with regard to Bermuda, we have had no adequate public statement as to the results of Bermuda. I do not know why. I came across in the New York Times, published a few weeks ago, a statement by a certain Jewish organization in which they said that to 5,000,000 Jews in Nazi Europe Bermuda was a cruel mockery. The only answer we have had to that is in language not as Parliamentary as our own, but Senator Lucas in the United States called this statement a "diabolical lie," and Congressman Bloom called it a "damned lie." And that Senator and that Congressman were both at Bermuda, so they appear, knowing what Bermuda did, to consider that statement was not true. Could we have from the Government something published to prove to the world that there was more in Bermuda than would appear to be considered to be the case by this organization which 852 published its remarks in the New York Times?
The next point I want to raise was dealt with by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chichester, and of course by my noble friend Lord Davies; that was whether a little more could not be done by the neutral countries. I am only going to make two suggestions in regard to those neutral countries. I imagine that if we were to make certain suggestions to them they might be willing to receive such refugees as could get across their frontiers. The two suggestions that I would make—and I think these have both been made before—are, first of all, that we might promise financial aid for the support of such refugees as they may receive; and, secondly, that we should jointly with other United Nations, promise to relieve them after the war of what they may feel to be a burden now in receiving a considerable number of such refugees as can get across. These are the two points which I hope may be supported by this Government in consultation with the other United Nations.
I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on Palestine. I understand that there are a great many places available in Palestine if we could only get the people there. I may be wrong in this, but perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will tell us. I do want to say one word about the "Struma" episode mentioned by Lord Davies. I do not think we were responsible for that. I do not think responsibility can be placed on the United Kingdom for the tragedy of the "Struma" episode; at least, I hope not. The evacuees from Gibraltar have been mentioned. I happen to have gone into this question, and I discover that, in point of fact, these people are not always getting the food they would like cooked in the way they would choose. I understand they are getting their food supplied in bulk by Lyons, and that they are trying to do a little cooking in their own way in their own rooms over gas-rings and what not, and that the Ministry objects. I also hear that they are getting materials for this cooking, as they have no ration books—their ration books are taken collectively—from an extension of black-marketing, which is most undesirable. I hope that the 853 Leader of the House will call the attention of Lord Woolton to this problem of the so-called Black Market in which these unfortunate evacuees from Gibraltar are being forced to operate if they are to get supplies for cooking.
Finally, I wish to ask whether this country has publicized to the neutral Powers the extraordinary value refugees can be in any country which receives them. The value of their work in this country has been most remarkable. They have brought over very many inventions of great value to the war effort. There are over three hundred refugee firms employed in making war material, and they are employing, amongst them, far more than 10,000 workers. Among the things they are making are reflector lights for our tanks now in Sicily and North Africa. They are making are lights, searchlights, and prismatic reflectors. They are making special torches, the invention of which they have brought from abroad. They are doing a great deal of engineering work. They are doing a very interesting thing—they are meeting a difficulty we had in connexion with hardened steel ball bearings by an invention imported by them which is producing hardened glass ball bearings which are being used in many aspects of our war industry. If we were to pass on this sort of thing, neutral countries might be all the more willing to receive the valuable inventive capacity which these people bring with them. Such matters as plastics, the making of uniforms, leather work, buttons and horn-rimmed spectacles are being made by special processes by these refugees. If we were to publicize this fact, we might do something to help neutral countries in the contribution they could make to the problem which I am glad has been raised by my noble friend Lord Davies and the Lord Bishop of Chichester to-day.
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships are all anxious to hear the reply of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, but I hope he will allow me to intervene for a few moments to support the Motion which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Davies. I am quite sure that he will not complain that the Motion has been raised, or of the manner in which my noble friend dealt with it. For myself, I have no desire to criticize or find fault with the Government in this 854 matter. The Bermuda Conference has been mentioned. At that Conference we had able representatives in the persons of Mr. Law and Mr. Osbert Peake, and I am quite sure that both these right honourable gentlemen did the very best they could to tackle the difficulties with which that Conference was faced. The more one studies this problem the more one becomes aware of the immense difficulties there are in the way of a satisfactory solution. Indeed, there can be no thoroughly satisfactory solution until victory is won, until the Allied Armies march into Berlin. We have to beware lest, in our anxiety to rescue the unfortunate victims of Nazi tyranny, we do anything that might impede even for one day the successful prosecution of the war.
I have been reading accounts of the debate which took place something over two months ago in another place in which very able and interesting speeches were made. Particularly I may mention the speech made by Miss Eleanor Rathbone, who has done so much on behalf of refugees. Also I would add there was a very able speech made by the late Colonel Victor Cazalet, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Marley, has just alluded. It is fitting in a debate of this kind that we should pay tribute to the work that Colonel Victor Cazalet did on behalf of these unfortunate people. I was also impressed by an observation made by one member in another place, and it was this: that the Government have done a great deal in this matter, but they have not presented their case very well; they have rather stressed the difficulties with which they were faced, they have not said so much about what they have done or what they hoped to do. I do not know whether that is so or not, but there is an impression in some quarters that they have not shown so much zeal as they might have done in dealing with this question of refugees. I should like to say that that is not my own impression. I believe that my right honourable friend Mr. Osbert Peake and the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers dealing with this matter are just as humane and just as anxious as anyone else could possibly be to assist these unfortunate people. In fact—possibly because they know more, from the position they occupy, of the horrors going on in Germany and the occupied countries—they are even more anxious than anyone else. If such an 855 impresion exists, this debate raised by my noble friend Lord Davies gives an opportunity to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to correct it.
The suggestion has been made—not in this debate—that it might be possible to make a direct appeal to Germany. I think that would be a quite futile proceeding. Perhaps it might be a different matter in dealing with the satellite countries. After the brilliant victories gained by our Armies in North Africa, after the successful invasion of Sicily, after the collapse of the Dictator who ruled, with the assistance of castor oil and the stiletto, over Italy for something like twenty years, the prestige of His Majesty's Government stands high today in Europe—higher, perhaps, than for many years past. They might have an opportunity now of bringing pressure upon these satellite countries, even on occupied countries, to do more than has been done hitherto for the victims of Nazi oppression. The fate of Mussolini may give the rulers of these countries and the Quislings of occupied countries some uneasy moments, and may render them more willing to pay attention to representations made by the British Government.
My noble friend Lord Davies has dealt at some length with the matter of the Jews. I would only say that important as that is it is not only a matter that affects Jews, it affects Poles, Czechs and many other nationalities at present groaning under the Nazi tyranny. I am afraid it is the case that the more imminent the threat of defeat becomes to Germany the more vicious and cruel the Germans are likely to be in their dealings with the unfortunate victims who are in their power. I think recent accounts that have come from Poland and Belgium rather confirm that view. I should like to make this further observation. Our country has enjoyed and has earned, and I think rightly earned, a reputation for tolerance, for racial and religious tolerance, and I hope that reputation may always be maintained. This country has also a tradition of hospitality. I am reminded of that by what my noble friend Lord Davies has said about the treatment of evacuees from Gibraltar. That, of course, is not strictly relevant to the subject of this debate, but my noble friend Lord Cranborne has now become well accus- 856 tomed to irrelevancies in debates in your Lordships' House and I am sure he will not be surprised that this point has been raised on this occasion. I should only like to say that I wish to endorse what has been said by my noble friend Lord Davies and my noble friend Lord Mottistone on that point. In conclusion, I would add that we have no wish to increase the difficulties of the Government in this matter, and we hope that they will continue to do everything possible in their power to rescue these unfortunate people from Nazi tyranny and Nazi oppression.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has been good enough to intimate that he does not mind, in spite of the lateness of the hour, if other occupants of this Bench contribute to the debate, and after the speeches we have had from noble Lords below the gangway he will not be surprised that another voice from these Benches in addition to that of my noble friend Lord Marley should express briefly the deep concern that is felt, I believe, by all humane people on this question of refugees. I welcome the opportunity that has been given us by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to emphasize again, after another long interval of time, the magnitude and urgency of the European refugee problem and to tell the Government how anxious we are that they should continue to do everything that lies in their power to rescue these victims of Nazi persecution. Only yesterday it was reported in the Press that the Polish Minister for Home Affairs had stated that the Nazis have massacred 1,800,000 Jews and 1,400,000 Gentiles during the four years of their occupation of Poland. He added that they proposed to liquidate about half the population of the province of Lublin, which means, I believe, something like a million souls, and that the massacres which we have read of in the past are continuing every day.
There is, surely, no parallel in European history for racial or religious persecution on such a scale, not even if we go back to the worst days of religious fanaticism in the Middle Ages. The process of extermination is continuous, and that is why the time factor which has been mentioned frequently this afternoon is of such importance. Whatever can be done should be undertaken without delay 857 while there are still victims awaiting the summons of the Gestapo. The liberation of Europe by the military defeat of Germany may well be the final solution, but it will certainly be the most tragic solution if a large proportion of those whom we have set out to liberate have perished at the hands of their oppressors. The prospect that was recommended at the Bermuda Conference was not, in my view, for perfectly sound reasons, communicated in public to the Press, or to another place, and I am inclined to disagree with my noble friend Lord Marley that it is desirable to broadcast the results of this Conference. I for one would refrain from asking the Government to make any statement that might prejudice negotiations that may already be taking place; but it would, I think, be very reassuring to the refugees and to all those who have their interests at heart to hear that the Government arc still doing their utmost by every expedient they can devise, in consultation with the United States and with neutral countries, to rescue by prompt and effective action the largest possible number of prospective victims.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester in his speech said that he appreciated the spirit which had actuated Lord Davies in raising this subject. I think we should all agree with the right reverend Prelate about that. Certainly the Government do not complain that the noble Lord should have raised this question. We realize how deeply he feels, as indeed all of us feel, regarding the appalling horrors of which we are the horrified witnesses, and I should like to thank noble Lords who have spoken for the very high tone which has been maintained all through this debate. It was consonant with the subject and in accordance with the traditions of your Lordships' House. The last time we had a discussion on the question of refugees was, as has been said this afternoon, on the 23rd of March last on a Motion standing in the name of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. On that occasion, as to-day, it fell to my lot to reply to the debate. I explained, to use the words that I think were used by Lord Davies this afternoon, that the Government were doing their level best to deal with this question. I 858 do not think that I can claim that I satisfied all the critics of the Government; that I think would have been too much to hope.
What the Government were asked to do on that occasion, and what in effect I think they have been asked to do to-day, is to give an assurance that they are in fact taking action which will go a long way towards providing a solution of this terrible problem. I wish I could give such an assurance. No one would like it better than myself. But I could not with any honesty do that. The problem is too big and our powers of dealing with it are too limited. In saying this I do hope that I shall not be regarded, or the Government will not be regarded, as unsympathetic to the cause of these unhappy people. I have for a good many years now been connected on and off with this most tragic and intractable problem. I used to have to deal with it before the war when I was at the Foreign Office, at Geneva. I sat on I do not know how many Committees on this question. Even then it was almost impossible to grapple with it. There were hundreds of thousands of political refugees for whom no country of ultimate refuge was ever found, who were scattered all over the world from Europe to China, in various degrees of destitution. There were thousands more, Jews, Socialists and Communists, continually streaming out of Germany from the year 1933 onwards, and there was yet another stream, less in number, but still a stream, of Anti-Fascists who were escaping from Italy.
Some nations treated that refugee problem in one way and some treated it in another. Into some countries they were allowed to go very freely, but it was found impossible to provide adequately for them when they had arrived, and as a result, as anyone who studied the question before the war knows, some starved, others committed suicide and a great many lived on in utter misery. Other countries adopted an alternative method and admitted only those for whom they could adequately provide. That was our own policy. It was criticized at the time as hard-hearted, but I believe it was wise from the point of view of the refugees themselves. At any rate, whatever may be felt about that, whatever was the policy adopted by the various countries, it was found possible to establish only a 859 very small proportion of that great army of misery in conditions in which they could look forward to a happy and secure life. The rest drifted hither and thither, helpless and hopeless. The League of Nations did what they could through their High Commissioner but was only able to touch, I was going to say, the fringe of the problem but at any rate very little more.
That was the insoluble nature of the problem in the piping times of peace, when there were no comparable difficulties to those we have to-day, of shipping, food, supplies and so on. Now the situation is far worse. I fully agree with noble Lords that the need of the refugees is even greater than it was then. Then they were threatened with starvation or with great hardship, but now they are threatened with still more appalling horrors. But equally the possibilities of assistance that can be given are far more limited than at that time. The number of those who can escape from occupied countries is much smaller than it was. There is an absolute bar on the frontiers of enemy-occupied territory and only the most adventurous can get through the barrier. To the vast majority of those people we cannot in any circumstances hold out a helping hand, because we cannot reach them. Even those who do filter through to neutral countries are infinitely more difficult to deal with under existing conditions.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester I think was a little hard this afternoon on His Majesty's Government. He quoted a number of sayings which have been made at various times and said that in his view there had been a deterioration in our attitude. I would say that equally we at times are a little shocked by the right reverend Prelate himself. In a letter which the right reverend Prelate wrote to The Times there was this sentence:It is quite certain that if the British and American Governments were determined to achieve a programme of rescue in some way commensurate with the vastness of the need, they could do it.How could the right reverend Prelate lend his name and authority to a statement of that kind which could only arouse false hopes among the unhappy people in occupied countries and also among the 860 more humane people in this country? I feel that His Majesty's Government have quite as much complaint against him, if he will forgive my saying so, as he has against them. There is no noble Lord in this House who does not have the deepest respect for the right reverend Prelate. We all know his passionate sincerity, his absolute single-mindedness with regard to this great question. But I am sorry that he did not assume that His Majesty's Government are animated by the same high purpose. We fully realize, I assure him, as well as he does, the appalling horrors to which he and others have drawn attention. We recognize the necessity for assisting the victims of these persecutions so far as is in any way practicable. There never has been to my knowledge a deterioration in the attitude of the Government, We have continued our efforts unceasingly during the war and, if more has not been done, it has not been for lack of good will.
Much has indeed been achieved. I do not think our record is anything to be ashamed of. On the last occasion on which I addressed your Lordships on this subject, I gave details of the vast number of refugees who have been admitted into this country and the British Empire. I do not propose to repeat those figures today, first because your Lordships are already aware of them; and secondly, because I know that if I do, I shall be told that I am smug and complacent. That I certainly am not. But I think it is only fair to say that there are hundreds of thousands of these unfortunate people to-day who are safe because of the action we have taken, action not only by His Majesty's Government here, but also by the Government of India. We would gladly have taken in more, many more. The only reason why we have not done so was that Colonial territories, as I know from my experience at the Colonial Office, could not contain them without creating new and almost insoluble food problems for the people of those territories. One territory took so many refugees that they found there was danger almost of famine in portions of the territory. The Government of that territory had reluctantly to close their doors against further immigrants.
It was these and similar hard and inescapable facts which eventually led His Majesty's Government to the conclusion 861 that this was not a problem which could be solved by unilateral action. That is the reason, as I think your Lordships know, why the Foreign Secretary raised this matter with the United States Government during his visit to Washington, and that is why the United States Government, who are just as eager as we are to find a solution, were so very ready to agree to that meeting, which has come to be known as the Bermuda Conference. As your Lordships know, since that Conference took place, there has been no discussion in your Lordships' House. But there was a very full debate in another place in which the Undersecretary of State for Home Affairs, who was one of the delegates, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary took part. I have little to add to what was said then. For security and other reasons, as your Lordships are aware, it was considered essential by both Governments to keep the Report of the Conference confidential. Indeed it was very vita! in the interests of the refugees themselves. As noble Lords know, however, certain general principles of policy were agreed at the start of the Conference, and these were enunciated by the Under-Secretary at the Home Office in the debate in another place. I had intended to recapitulate them to-day, but the hour is late and as your Lordships are already aware of them I think you will not ask me to repeat them now.
To pass on to the work of the Conference, as your Lordships I think probably know, the Conference after careful examination rejected the possibility of any general negotiations with the German Government for the release of all potential refugees. They did not think it was a practical proposal, as my noble friend Lord Denman said this afternoon. It was most improbable in any case that the Germans would agree to such a proposal, and if they did, in order to embarrass us, we should have been faced suddenly with a vast problem with which we should be entirely unable to deal without a crippling effect on our war effort. The Conference also rejected the suggestion made in some quarters that Axis military prisoners should be exchanged against political refugees in the occupied countries. The only result of such a proposal would have been to strengthen the enemy war machine, to prolong the war and with it 862 the agony of those people in occupied countries who could not take advantage of the scheme.
Lastly, for the same reason, they felt bound to reject all schemes involving a large diversion of Allied shipping. Shipping is the essential element of an Allied victory. If it is our paramount aim, and it certainly is, to win this war in the shortest possible time, we must do nothing which would tend to defeat that object. To do so, however worthy our motive might be, would be wrong and would not be in the interests of the people in the occupied countries themselves. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester appeared to think that there is a vast pool of unused shipping. He said that the situation is improving and that there clearly ought to be more shipping to go round. I wish I could think that that is so. But the needs of the present operations, both in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific, are tremendous. There is, of course, also the great need for ships to bring over foodstuffs to this country and to fulfil other important purposes which noble Lords will be able to enumerate for themselves. There is no such pool as the right reverend Prelate suggested. But, of course, any improvement in the shipping position must clearly be taken into account in connexion with this problem.
I have mentioned some of the limitations on action which the Bermuda Conference was obliged to put upon itself in its discussions. But, subject to those limitations, it did approve certain steps which it thought might usefully be taken. But I am in the unhappy position still of being unable to define those measures to-day. Lord Davies said that they were shrouded in mystery. That does not mean that nothing is being accomplished in this connexion. It only means that I cannot tell Lord Davies what it is that is being accomplished. I have already explained that it was agreed by the Governments of the two nations that it was contrary to the interests of the refugees themselves to announce the decisions of the Bermuda Conference in public. I would not risk damaging the interests of the refugees even to satisfy the anxieties of noble Lords today. But I can assure the House that the conclusions of the Conference have been actively pursued since the Conference met, and substantial progress has, I understand, been made since the debate took place in another place in May last.
863 To supervise these steps, to keep in touch with developments in the situation, and to relieve by international action the burden falling on neutral countries bordering on Axis territory (which have taken in large number of refugees whom they cannot maintain indefinitely), the two Governments have agreed on the desirability of setting up an Inter-Governmental Committee. This Committee is intended to incorporate that which existed before the war but—and I think some question with regard to this was raised by the right reverend Prelate —it is not the same in all respects. It is going to be on a wider basis and to have much greater authority. Jews are to be associated with it. I am afraid that that is not very detailed information; but it is the most I can give in public debate at the present time. International negotiations are proceeding with regard to the first meeting of this Committee, and I am glad to say that those negotiations are progressing favourably. I cannot say more to your Lordships now.
Other measures have been proposed, by those concerned with this problem, for the assistance of the refugees. Some of them have been mentioned to-day. For instance, it has been suggested—I think it was suggested by Lord Davies; certainly it has been suggested in a great many quarters—that blocks of visas should be given to British Consuls in neutral countries to enable refugees to come here. This is rather a technical question. I really think that the proposal arises from a misconception of the nature of a visa. It seems to be assumed that a visa is an independent document which can be handed out by any of His Majesty's Consuls, and will entitle the holder to land in this country. That is not the position at all. A visa is not an independent document; it is an endorsement placed upon an already existing passport or travel document. If the intending immigrant to this country has no document he can get no visa. Such is the position, in fact, of a large proportion of the refugees at the present time. They are nearly all of them flying for their lives, and, for obvious reasons, they have obtained no passport in their country of origin. The system of visas has, therefore, had to be very largely 864 suspended, but many thousands of refugees have arrived, and are at the present time arriving, in this country without documents of any kind, and none of these people are being turned back. If we insisted on visas in every case, their situation would be far worse than it is now.
So far as those are concerned who have travel documents—the more fortunate ones, that is, who have travel documents which are vouched for by their own Governments—visas are already available to certain categories, and the people in those categories are entitled to receive such visas without reference to the authorities here. Your Lordships will probably know that within recent months, that is to say since I last spoke to your Lordships, additions have been made to these categories. They have been extended to include the parents of men serving in His Majesty's or Allied Services or the Mercantile Marine. They have been extended to include persons other than Allied nationals willing to join His Majesty's Forces. They have been extended to include parents of children under sixteen who are already here. This decision of His Majesty's Government will, I know, be widely welcomed by your Lordships. There are, of course, other categories for whom there must be reference home before a visa is given, and I should have thought that that was an elementary precaution in time of war with which no one would quarrel. After all, in war-time you must know whom you are admitting to your country. I do not suppose that there is a great stream of enemy agents on their way here, but such a thing is always a possibility.
There was a suggestion made, I think it was by Lord Davies, to the effect that it was a mistake that there should be a condition for a visa that the recipient must already have left enemy country. With all deference I would point out that it would make no difference to a man in an enemy country whether he had a visa or not. A visa to England is not of the slightest assistance to a man crossing the frontier from an enemy country into a neutral country. Neutrals do not stop a man at the frontier because he has not got a visa to Great Britain. If he manages to get into a neutral country, whether he has a British visa or not, there is machinery which I have already 865 described to enable him to come on here. I think it would be reckless to hand out visas to people in enemy countries about whom we know nothing. It seems to me that it would be putting an absolute premium on impersonation by enemy agents. You could not be certain that a man who arrived with a visa was the man whose name appeared on the visa.
It was also suggested that there should be a further approach by His Majesty's Government to the Governments of neutral countries to ask them to take in more refugees. This is a very delicate question. Neutral countries bordering on enemy-occupied territories are already doing a great deal. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Marley, gave the impression that they were doing nothing. That is not true.
I do not wish to misrepresent the noble Lord, but I do want to emphasize that they have done and are doing a great deal. It would be unwise for His Majesty's Government to press these Governments too far. If we asked them to take more than a certain number of refugees, and if we publicized too largely what they have already done in this respect, they would be likely to come immediately under violent pressure from the enemy, and might very well be compelled either to reverse or at any rate to modify their existing policy. We have in fact had examples of that kind, and we do not want to have those examples repeated in the future; that would be a most deplorable result of our interest in this question. It is urgently necessary, therefore, not only for members of His Majesty's Government but for everybody who speaks on this subject to speak with the utmost discretion and weigh every word; and I am most grateful to noble Lords for the great restraint which they have shown to-day.
I have been asked some questions about Palestine and the position there. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, raised this question in rather a big way. In a debate on the subject of refugees, I hope that he will forgive me if I refuse to be drawn into a discussion of the White Paper and 866 of the question of Palestine in general. I am sure he will realize that nothing would be more unhelpful at present, and I must refuse to extend the scope of the debate to that extent. If the point of the noble Lord's reference is what Palestine has done and can do to alleviate the refugee problem, I can at once point to the efforts which the Palestine Administration has already made in this respect. The figures are these. Between April 1, 1939, and March 31, 1943, about 41,000 Jewish immigrants, legal and illegal, have entered Palestine, and in addition 4,000 people, of whom about 40 per cent. were Jews, from Central Europe and from Greece, were provided with temporary refuge there for the period of the war. These are, of course, for the most part refugees, and as such form a special part of the great Jewish immigration which since 1919 in legal immigrants alone has amounted to over 300,000.
As announced by the Colonial Secretary on February 3 last, His Majesty's Government are prepared to continue to admit into Palestine Jewish children, with a proportion of accompanying adults, up to the limit of the immigration permissible for the five-year period ending March 31, 1944, which means at present about 34,000 more. The difficulties involved from the points of view of travel and selection need hardly be emphasized, but they could, and I think I can say they would, have been overcome long ago but for the reluctance of the enemy to give any of the Jewish people concerned the necessary exit permits. It is this, and no niggardly measures of the Palestine or British authorities involved, which up to the present has defeated all His Majesty's Government's intentions in the matter.
I do not think that there is anything more that I can usefully add at present. To excite controversy over Palestine at the present juncture would be a very heavy responsibility for anybody to assume; and so, without pursuing the more controversial issues which I detected in the noble Lord's speech, I would say that His Majesty's Government are leaving no stone unturned, within the limits imposed upon them by considerations of the highest policy, to give shelter to those who are in danger of persecution and death. The noble Lord may at any rate be assured that my right honourable 867 friend the Colonial Secretary and the Government as a whole are continually watching for opportunities to further the humanitarian aims to which expression has been given in this debate. If I may digress for one moment to Lord Davies's remarks about Anti-Semitism, I cannot express too strongly my agreement with what he said. We have all seen the absolute degradation of civilization to which Anti-Semitism has led in Germany and other countries, and I hope it will never lift its ugly head in this country.
A great many other points have been raised in the debate. I have not time to deal with them all, but I shall touch briefly on a few. Some of the points had already been raised by Miss Rathbone's Committee, to which reference has been made in this debate. There was the question of whether a guarantee should not be given to neutral nations that refugees who had sheltered within their boundaries would be removed as soon as possible, either during the war or, if that was not practicable, as soon as possible afterwards. That was agreed to, in principle, by the delegates at Bermuda, and the practical application of that principle is at present under active examination. I do not say that in every case it will be possible to give effect to it immediately, but at any rate it is, as I say, under active examination. Then there is the question of the provision of further refugee camps, which was raised by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chichester. Negotiations are in fact going on now for the extension of existing camps and the provision of new ones. It is not a subject on which His Majesty's Government can speak alone because, as I am sure your Lordships will understand, it is a question which affects other nations as well. But I can say that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom—for whom alone I can speak—would be very glad if further camps could be provided for this purpose.
The Bishop of Chichester also raised the question of the reception of a larger number of refugees in the territories of the Dominions. That is not a subject on which I can speak; I can answer only for His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. I have no doubt, however, that that matter will be discussed in the Inter-Governmental Committee, along 868 with similar questions. There is also the question of publicity for German atrocities in our broadcasts to Germany. The right reverend Prelate said he thought the Germans did not know what was going on. I am not so sure; I do not think quite so well of the Germans as he does. It is, however, an interesting suggestion, and I shall certainly pass it on to the authorities concerned. So far as publicity in neutral countries for these atrocities is concerned, I understand that attention is already being given to that.
Then there is one point which does not really arise out of this debate, the question of the Gibraltarians who are now in this country. As I think Lord Davies himself said, this is not strictly a refugee problem, in the same sense as the others which are under discussion. The Gibraltarians who are here are not here because they are fleeing from Nazi oppression; they have been removed temporarily from their homes to avoid having a large number of non-combatants in time of war in a fortress which might become the subject of a siege by the enemy. I hope that that will not happen now, but at the time these people were removed it seemed to be a possibility. In fact, they are not refugees but evacuees, and I think that they would much prefer to be described as evacuees. It is clearly desirable that they should be provided with the best accommodation possible. They are very patriotic subjects of the King, and they have most loyally accepted the hardships involved by war conditions. I shall certainly pass on to the Ministers concerned what Lord Davies has said, and also what Lord Mottistone has said; and I am most grateful to Lord Mottistone for offering to send me some papers on the subject. In saying that, however, I must not be taken as accepting the charges made in the newspapers as well founded. I understand that that is by no means the case. In any event, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not deal with this point to-day, for it really does lie outside the scope of the debate. Should the noble Lord, Lord Davies, like to put down a Motion on the subject after the Recess, I shall of course be very glad to answer it then.
I have kept this House a very long time this afternoon. I have spoken as fully as the situation allowed me to do. But I know the House will forgive me for 869 detaining it on a subject of such vital importance to us all. I repeat that the Government do not complain in the least of Lord Davies raising this question. I think that the speeches that have been made have been in accordance with the highest British traditions. We have always tried to offer asylum to the victims of oppression, and I hope we always shall. To-day we are passing through a very dark valley. Over a very large part of the earth's surface savagery and science have joined hands, progress has become perverted, and a particularly odious form of what I might describe as mechanized cruelty holds sway. Men, women and little children are suffering as they probably never have—or at any rate on so great a scale—since the Dark Ages, and clearly all of us must do everything in our power to alleviate their misery.
I can assure the House, and I beg your Lordships to believe me, that to this end my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, the Cabinet Committee that deals with this question, and the devoted officials of the Foreign Office are bending all their energies. But—and it is no good blinking this fact—there is a limit to what they can achieve while the enemy power remains unbroken. I believe personally that the day of liberation is coming, perhaps sooner than some of us think. Already the people of Sicily are rejoicing in their freedom, and I hope, as I know we all hope, that the day will soon dawn when that freedom is extended to all the peoples of Europe. In the meantime we must do all we can; I can assure the House that the Government will not relax their efforts in spite of the difficulties, which I do not under-estimate. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said, the defeat of the totalitarian Powers is the only adequate refugee policy. There is nothing that can entirely take its place, and to that policy the whole mind of the United Nations will be unswervingly directed until the present nightmare is ended and man can live at peace with man again throughout the length and breadth of the world.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, might I say one word about the much-criticized letter to The Times? I appreciate the kindliness of the comments of the Leader of the House. But in my letter to The Times I did not say "completely commensurate" with the 870 vastness of the problem, I said "in some way commensurate" with the vastness of the problem. But if I said too much or pitched the hopes it aroused too high, I am sorry. What I wanted to emphasize was the need of determination to achieve a programme of rescue.
I did not mean to make an acrimonious criticism of the right reverend Prelate. What I did feel was that the Government were represented as doing a little bit less than they ought to do. I am always afraid of saying too much. It is always better to say less and do more than to say more and do less. Understatement is surely preferable to overstatement.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, I have to thank my noble friend for his speech and also for the assurance on behalf of the Government that everything possible will be done to alleviate the condition of the refugees. I must confess there was one thing which I thought very ominous for the future. He said that before the war from 1933 onwards we had been faced with the refugee problem and that all the efforts of the nations who were trying to deal with it at Geneva had only touched the fringe of it, and that being so it would be very much more difficult to do more in war-time. But what is going to happen after the war? Surely the position then will be terrible and grim, and we hope that the Government will do everything they can not only to try and alleviate conditions as they are now but to take time by the forelock and prepare plans for alleviating the conditions of these people after the war is won.
With regard to the visas, we never suggested that these refugees should be allowed to come into this country with the visas which they had obtained before they crossed the frontier, without most careful inspection; and what we have suggested is that they should go to camps—I believe there is accommodation for 4,000 people now in one of these detention camps in the Isle of Man—and should there be put through a most careful examination. Their whole history should be "vetted" and they should not be allowed any liberty in this country until they have satisfied the authorities that they were bona-fide refugees. With regard to Palestine, I confess I did not expect my noble friend would tell us very much on that score. I hope, however, that before 871 many months have passed the Government will pick up courage and really tackle this problem, and tackle it in the sense and in the spirit of the Balfour Declaration. I again thank the noble Viscount for the definite assurance that no stone will be left unturned to pursue this matter further to a more satisfactory conclusion. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.